CVIndependent

Wed05222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On the bar at Lulu—one of Palm Springs’ biggest and most popular restaurants (and a personal favorite of mine)—is a sign in a silver picture frame.

“We have an excellent selection of non-Russian vodka,” the sign reads, just below an image of a rainbow-colored martini.

Lulu is one of a number of bars and restaurants that are participating in a boycott of Russian vodka that is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

It’s a boycott that is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it isn’t well-thought-out.

The roots of the boycott lie, in part, in a call by Dan Savage, a pundit, author and sex-advice columnist who is the editorial director of The Stranger, one of the Independent’s alt-media brethren, in Seattle. On Wednesday, Savage wrote a post on The Stranger’s website titled “Why I’m Boycotting Russian Vodka.” In the post, he chronicles increasing government-sanctioned anti-gay movements in Russian, including bans on gay-pride celebrations and violent attacks on LGBT groups and individuals. These horrendous actions have led many to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in Sochi, Russia.

Savage points out that many of us can’t really participate right now in an Olympics boycott, since the vast majority of us aren’t planning on traveling to Sochi for the games. However, many of us do drink vodka. And therefore, he argues, we can send a message by forgoing Russian booze.

“If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands … switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery,” Savage writes. “Stoli is the iconic Russian vodka and it's returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

There’s no doubt that the well-intentioned boycott is growing. There’s also no doubt that the boycott is gaining attention.

Attention from Stoli, that is: The company is understandably concerned, and has issued a statement to the world condemning Russia's actions and promoting LGBT rights.

Of course, anyone who has attended any large LGBT event in recent years already knows that Stoli is engaged and supportive of the LGBT community. In fact, Stoli actually employs an LGBT brand ambassador, Patrik Gallineaux. (Full disclosure: Patrik is a friend.)

You can speculate that Stoli may cares more about LGBT dollars than LGBT rights. (After all, we gays love our vodka, don’t we?) You can also criticize Stoli for its over-glorification of twinks and single-digit-body-fat-percentage younger men in its LGBT-themed promotions. (But that’s a column for another time.) But you can’t deny that Stoli has done more to engage, support and be visible in the gay community than any other liquor brand, foreign or domestic—and that is a very good thing.

A recent lesson on the consequences of boycotts can be found in the state to our east. After the state of Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer made the anti-immigrant SB 1070 into law in 2010, a group of musicians, led by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, organized the Sound Strike, a movement that discouraged bands from performing in the state of Arizona. In time, an impressive list of musicians ranging from Maroon 5 to Steve Earle to Ozomatli signed on with the Sound Strike.

Sound Strike was undeniably well-intentioned. After all, SB 1070 was a terrible, horrendous law with racist roots.

On one hand, Sound Strike was a success—for a period of time, a number of acts indeed cancelled concerts in Arizona, and/or refused to schedule dates there.

On the other hand, Sound Strike was a failure: The right-wing Republicans in the Arizona Legislature and notorious officials such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer didn’t care one whit about Sound Strike. They continued to fight on behalf of SB 1070 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected much of the law in 2012.

In other words, while Sound Strike had a profound effect on, say, fans of Ozomatli in Arizona, and well-meaning progressive nonprofits like the Rialto Theatre, it had no effect on the people who were responsible for SB 1070 becoming law.

Sound Strike eventually fizzled out, more or less, but only after harming at lot of people who were—like the Sound Strike organizers—opposed to SB 1070. (The boycott cost the nonprofit Rialto at least six figures.)

I see the same thing happening with this ill-advised Russian-vodka boycott. There's no doubt that this boycott could hurt the most gay-engaged liquor brand in the U.S. I also have no doubt that Vladimir Putin and other anti-gay leaders in Russia will suffer neither harm nor a crisis of conscience over this boycott.

That’s why when I head to downtown Palm Springs tonight for a cocktail, Stoli will be the liquor in my glass.

Published in Editor's Note

The 100 or so community judges were watching the sixth of 22 entries in the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s “In a Center Minute” Commercial-Making Contest.

Shortly after that sixth commercial started playing, the judges knew they were watching something special. In fact, when the commercial finished, the audience broke into a spontaneous round of applause.

The commercial—which would go on to take top honors in the contest’s student category—was made by College of the Desert student Daniel Meyers. Using dry-erase drawings, the commercial tells the story of Aaron, an 18-year-old who discovers he is gay as he is dealing with the death of his father. He goes on to find low-cost grief counseling and a community of friendship at the Center.

Meyers’ commercial, simply put, was amazing. (It’s the first commercial embedded below. Go ahead and stop reading, and scroll down to watch it; come back here when you’re done. Seriously. Go watch it.)

Impressive, huh?

The contest was the brainchild of Shann Carr, the Center’s outgoing volunteer coordinator. (Carr—a friend of the Independent—is returning to her stand-up comedy career full-time.) She joined her “Secret Meeting Volunteers” (disclosure: I sat in on some of those early “secret meetings”) to put on the contest as a gift to the Center.

When all was said and done, the contest received six entries from students, and 16 from the general public. Around 100 community members arrived at the Desert Regional Medical Center’s Sinatra Auditorium on Monday, July 15, to serve as judges at the aforementioned screening; two days later, many of the contestants and other community members were invited to the Sinatra Auditorium for a screening and the announcement of the winners.

While Meyers ran away with the win in the student contest, the mother-and-son team of Katy and Sam Wilkerson took top honors in the general-population category. Their impressive documentary-style commercial features clips of volunteers and members discussing the various services provided at the Center. (It’s the second clip embedded below.) This isn’t the first time that the Wilkerson family has made figurative waves with video cameras: Their short film The Pride of Palm Springs, about the inclusion of the Palm Springs High School marching band in the local pride parade, recently impressed audiences at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

The two winners received $1,000, thanks to sponsorship by Hunters, Snowden Construction, the Coachella Valley Independent (yep, that’s us), The NestEggg Group, Southern Wine and Spirits, and Ripe N’ This World.

The second-place finishers—Cindy Kendall in the general-population category, and Cheri Smith (the daughter of a Center volunteer and also a College of the Desert student) in the student category—received $250.

All of the entries can be viewed at inacenterminute.com. The Center will use the entries at public events and for fundraising. They may also be submitted to local media as public-service announcements.

Katy and Sam Wilkerson signed up for the contest after someone at the Shortfest told them about it, Katy says.

“We thought it would be fun, and kind of up our alley,” she says.

However, the Wilkersons’ winning submission almost didn’t come to fruition. Sam's father and Katy’s husband, Steven, passed away rather suddenly during the contest period, on June 25. Despite the shock, Sam and Katy decided to press on.

“My husband would have wanted us to do this, and we decided to go on with it,” Katy says. “He was in the room with us the night we won.”

Understandably, the Wilkersons got a late start on filming: Katy says the day before the submission deadline, Sam went to the Center and did his filming after they talked to friends who were familiar with the Center. He then edited the footage—and had just enough good stuff to flesh out the documentary-style commercial.

“It all just flowed,” Katy says.

In the end, the commercial was just the latest honor for the family Wilkerson, which has been into films since Sam, now 20 years old, bought his first camera with birthday and Christmas money at the age of 10.

Sam was unable to attend the awards screening on Wednesday, July 17, because he was on a film shoot in the Los Angeles area. He’s now working as a pro in L.A. after learning film-and-editing ropes at Palm Springs High School.

And as for the commercial that left the audience cheering: A visibly shy Daniel Meyers told the audience on Wednesday that he based the character of Aaron on his own life. However, there is one big difference.

Unlike Aaron, he didn’t discover the Center until a bit later in life. He told the audience that he wishes he’d learned about it sooner.

Below: Daniel Meyers, the student-category winner, poses with LGBT Center volunteer coordinator Shann Carr; and Katy Wilkerson, the mom in the mom-son team that won in the general-population category, poses with Carr. Photos courtesy of the Center.

Daniel Meyers, the student-category winner, poses with LGBT Center volunteer coordinator Shann Carr. Photo courtesy of the Center.

Katy Wilkerson, the mom in the mom-son team that won in the general-population category, poses with Shann Carr. Photo courtesy of the Center.

Published in Local Issues

Shann Carr thinks that The Center—the Coachella Valley’s community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks—is grossly underutilized.

She says that when she discusses The Center with locals who are L, G, B or T, she learns that a shocking number of them aren’t familiar with the services it provides. “Half of them have never even been here,” says the center’s volunteer and community outreach coordinator.

Therefore, she’s decided that it’s time for The Center to get the word out—and that’s where its Commercial-Making Contest comes in.

(Disclosure time: I’ve helped Shann and her “secret meeting volunteers” here and there as they got the contest off the ground—and the Coachella Valley Independent is a sponsor of the contest. That's just how we roll.)

The rules for the contest, which can be found at thecenterps.org, are pretty simple: Anybody can sign up for the contest, and winners will be selected in two categories: One category is for the general public (i.e. anybody, from anywhere); and another is for students between the ages of 14 and 25 who have been enrolled in a school of some sort within the last year. Submissions of the 60-second commercials are due on Wednesday, July 10, and the winners in each category get $1,000 each.

And to make it even more simple, after contestants sign up for the contest via thecenterps.org, they’ll get an link to a resource kit containing pictures, PDFs, video clips and more that can be used in the 60-second spots. And if that isn’t enough, The Center and its NestEggg Food Bank will be open for contestants to come by and shoot their own footage each Thursday (preferably before noon) between now and the July 10 deadline.

So why a 60-second commercial contest?

“Because tiny bits of information are how people communicate now. Sixty seconds is as long as anyone will stare at anything anymore,” Carr laughs.

The Center hopes to use the winning commercials online, as public-service announcements on local stations, and at the numerous local festivals and events where The Center has a presence. The ultimate goal: for more people to know about all of the services The Center provides, from health-and-wellness activities to job-training to a computer center.

The entries are starting to trickle in, Carr says—and they include one contestant who plans on making the commercial using only a smartphone. However, she’s hoping for a larger turnout of contestants—especially in the student category.

“Some people won’t read an article, but they’ll click on a 60-second ad. It’s the lazy person’s article,” Carr says.

To enter or receive more information, head on over to thecenterps.org.

Published in Local Issues

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